Like April, a great birding month. Temperatures begin to climb with day maxima often reaching 25°C by the end of the month, though feeling cooler on offshore islands due to low sea temperatures and wind. Fog can temporarily limit birding, while also causing spectacular falls of migrants.
Migration continues, and guided tours to estuaries or offshore islands can expect many spectacular days. Especially in the first week, diversity can be exceptional. Lesser Sandplovers, Red-necked Stints, Broad-billed and Spoon-billed Sandpipers peak at Saemangeum and other key areas, while Chestnut and Little Buntings begin to outnumber Yellow-throated and the very common Black-faced Bunting. Mugimakis, Dark-sided and Grey-streaked Flycatchers also start to arrive, peaking in the second and third weeks of the month. Brown and Tiger Shrikes, Siberian Rubythroats and Broad-billed Rollers add colour and quality to the birding mix. By late May locustella warblers (Gray's, Pallas's, Middendorf's, Styann's Grasshopper and Lanceolated) arrive on western islands. In forests Ruddy Kingfisher and Fairy Pitta are in territory and vocal, though still elusive and easily disturbed. Korean breeding Chinese Egrets and Black-faced Spoonbills remain widespread at the best sites, and Saunders's Gull also sometimes nest.
May is a prime month for finding national rarities. Korean firsts in May have included: in 2000, Ortolan Bunting and Northern Wheatear; in 2001, Himalayan Swiftlet and Asian Koel on Gageo Island, and Black Tern at Seosan; in 2002, Long-tailed Skua; in 2003, Isabelline Wheatear and Chinese Song Thrush; in 2004, an Orange-headed Thrush on Hong Island; and in 2005 three Tickell's Leaf Warblers on Socheong.
(The following records are a compilation of our own sightings and records sent in by other observers. As well as being posted on the Birds Korea website(s), selected records are also forwarded to other Korean-language birding websites; records of threatened species are arranged and forwarded to Birdlife International and national authorities when appropriate; flag images and records are passed to bodies responsible for their coordination throughout the flyway; and all records sent to us are used to compile annual reports and to support the evolving understanding of the status of many of Korea’s birds.)
Blue Rock Thrush pandoo: Date : May 7 (12:30); Observer : Bing Gi-Chang; Hong Island
Chinese Song Thrush: Date : May 14 (16:40); Observer : Kim Sung-Hyun; Hong Island
Cinammon Bittern: Date : May 28; Observer : Choi Chang-Yong, Kim Sung-Hyun; Hong Island
Rosy Pipit: Date : May 30; Observer : Bing Gi-Chang, Kim Sung-Hyun; Hong Island
Socheong, Sound recording of Large Hawk Cuckoo Cuculus sparverioides
Thomas Langenberg has very kindly supplied a sound recording of Korea's first
(The files are Copyright Thomas Langenberg, recorded in company with Nial Moores and Team Bavaria on Socheong, May 21 and 22, 2007)
Cheorwon, May 31
At the favoured reservoir a further chunk of reeds has been cut out for fishermen, but the remaining zone of vegetation is obviously still enough for a pair of Schrenck's Bittern that gave excellent views in the early morning, Chinese water deer, and 6 Oriental Reed Warblers in territory.
Nearby, a pair of Yellow-rumped Flycatchers, Grey Starling, Black-naped Oriole, Northern Hobby, Thick-billed Tiger Shrike, Eurasian Cuckoo, & Yellow-throated Bunting.
Seen feeding young were Daurian Redstarts and a Great-Spotted Woodpecker. Finally seen in flight was one of Korea's most elusive birds, a Ruddy Kingfisher, with a second individual calling nearby.
Socheong AM, May 29
In four hours in the morning, 55 species logged, with highlights including a White-breasted Waterhen, 2 Light-vented Bulbul and now at least 6 Black Drongo.
Socheong, May 28
In the short time spent in the field, highlights included 2 Black Drongo and a House Swift.
Socheong, May 27
In sunny, hazy conditions, clear evidence of a good arrival of late spring migrants, with 189 Arctic, 16 Two-barred Greenish, 18 Thick-billed and 26 Gray's Grasshopper Warblers counted, with Black-browed Reed Warbler (ca 60) the most numerous of the other warbler species. Among the 81 species in total logged for the day, most notable were no less than 3 male Watercock (one even flushing up to perch at the top of a tall pine tree!), a single White-breasted Waterhen, and rarest for the day (in the Korean context) a male Cinammon Bittern, watched in flight only over the harbor. This latter species is apparently not recorded annually in Korea.
Simpo 'north island', May 26
A quick wade to the north 'island' led to a fantastic sighting of minimum 31 Spoon-billed Sandpipers feeding with c. 400 Red-necked Stints. These 31 included 12 in non-breeding plumage. A later trip to Simpo in the evening (with Ann MacGregor and Emily Styles) revealed c. 2,000 Red-necked Stints with minimum 16 Spoon-billed Sandpipers in fading light. As all of these birds were feeding frenetically, seemingly to prepare for migration, the feeling was that other Spoon-billed Sandpipers were missed. A longer trip to Simpo is planned for tomorrow.
Socheong, May 21-26
Highlights from a trip to Socheong:
May 21: Afternoon. Ferry trip was extremely quiet, boding little movement on the island.
However, small numbers of good birds were present. Highlights were: 2 each of Lanceolated and Pallas' Grasshopper Warblers, 2 Gray's Grasshopper Warblers, 5 Thick-billed and 7 Brown Shrikes, 1 Two-barred Greenish Warbler, 3 Black-browed Reed Warbler, 2 Black Drongo, and 1 Spangled Drongo (NM, RN). 2 Hodgson's Hawk Cuckoos heard, as well as the Large Hawk Cuckoo discovered by NM and Team Bavaria the day before.
May 22: Obviously fewer birds, with some increase in cuckoos noted, although all in single digits: Common, Hodgson's Hawk, Indian, Oriental, and Little. 1 Pacific Swift, 1 each of Sand and Northern House Martins.
May 23: Clearout continues. 6 Black Drongos noted. 1 Thick-billed Warbler. 3 Mugimaki Flycatchers. 4 Yellow-breasted Buntings.
May 24: Heavy rain all day; limited time spent in field. No obvious influx of birds. Common, Indian and Hodgson's Hawk Cuckoos heard throughout the island. 1 Thick-billed and 1 Two-barred Greenish Warbler. Arctic Warblers the most common bird (50+).
May 25: Heavy fog in the morning, clearing at about 8 am. 1 Red-billed Starling. 1 Red-throated Flycatcher. 1 Striated Heron. Highlight was a Black Bittern seen very well. A Brambling was a late lingerer. 4 Grey-faced Buzzards, with 2 giving excellent views.
May 26: Very quiet. Highlight was a female Chestnut-cheeked Starling.
Ferry trip was again quiet, with only a few Streaked Shearwaters noted.
Simpo, Saemangeum, May 23
Following reports of prolonged and daily views of Spoon-billed Sandpipers, we took the early ferry off Socheong, arriving at Simpo in the late afternoon. After an hour of searching, four full breeding-plumaged Spoon-billed Sandpipers were located, in almost exactly the same area where they had been present during SSMP 06.
Socheong Island, May 22
In bright and sunny conditions, with light to moderate southerly winds, much quiter than of late. However, exceptional records included the Large Hawk-Cuckoo heard again at dawn (and recorded), a stunning flight view of another Band-bellied Crake (NM only) and a male Black-winged Cuckoo-Shrike, perhaps the fourth record for Socheong (and the fifth or so for Korea?), seen by JL and J R-K only.
Socheong Island, May 21
With winds swinging to the southeast, far fewer birds. but still 101 species logged. Outstanding highlight was the very first bird of the day: the Large Hawk-Cuckoo heard singing at 5 am near to the main village! Although some sound recordings were made, these sadly did not include a couple of bursts of the more frantic three-note "brainfever" song. Also of exceptional note, a Spangled Drongo was found in the afternoon (first seen by Robin Newlin and NM).
Birds Korea is very grateful to Walter Somerville for documentary evidence of South Korea's first record of Green-winged Teal Anas (crecca) carolinensis - photographed on the "Kap River between Taejon and Shin Tan Jin" on January 13, 1979!
Photos © Walter Somerville
To quote from Mr Somerville's email to us:
"[In the 1970s] I lived in Taejon and one of my regular places to bird was a short bus ride out of town to the Kap River. The Kap River flowed out of Taejon as a broad, shallow river until it emptied into the Kum River a few miles downstream. It was a perfect spot for ducks, shorebirds, birds of prey, and lots of walking.
I am attaching a couple of photos of the Green-winged Teal that I and my friend Jon Lee saw in January of 1979 on the Kap River between Taejon and Shin Tan Jin. We had set up a simple blind and were working to try and get closeup photos of ducks. One the roll of negatives, I see a lot of crows, a sandpiper, and numerous shots of assorted ducks. Obviously we were surprised to spot a different looking teal and later confirmed it was carolinensis.
My photographic equipment was rather primitive and my images far less than impressive. I had a Minolta XD 11 SLR that I would mount on my Bushnell Spacemaster II spotting scope. Focusing and shaking were always difficult."
We very much welcome correspondence from birders/photographers who are former Korean residents, and are particularly interested in recieving any bird records that help fill in the gaps in our knowledge - though we don't expect to receive such thrilling news and supporting photographs as this on a regular basis...
Socheong Island, May 21
With winds swinging to the southeast, far fewer birds. Outstanding highlight was the very first bird of the day: the Large Hawk-Cuckoo heard singing at 5 am near to the main village! Although some sound recordings were made, these sadly did not include a couple of bursts of the more frantic three-note "brainfever" song.
Socheong Island, May 20
98 species logged, again in beautiful weather with light westerly winds. Among many, many highlights (and frustrations!) were the Large Hawk-Cuckoo again, this time heard singing in the morning (NM only); a Band-bellied Crake in "Black Goat Valley" seen reasonably well by four or more observers; a Black Paradise Flycatcher; another probable Chinese Leaf Warbler (with one probable seen on 19th), based on a song heard by NM for ca 10 seconds - but no bird seen; and an unidentified minivet with strong wingbars and apparently yellow underparts seen only in flight by three observers (Nial Moores, Soenke Tautz and Kirsten Kraetzel).
In addition, good numbers of commoner migrants included e.g. 50 Brown and 7 Thick-billed Shrikes, 150 Black-naped Oriole, 25 Siberian Rubythroat, 30 Rufous-tailed Robin and 25 Siberian Thrush.
Socheong Island, May 19
Another outstanding day! Of the 94 species logged, birds of most note included 40 Crested Honey Buzzard, 25 Pechora Pipit, 5 Light-vented Bulbul, 6 White-throated Rockthrush, an estimated 800 Chestnut-flanked White-eye, 200 Arctic Warbler, and best of all Korea's first Large Hawk-Cuckoo! Seen for only a few seconds, views by NM were however sufficient to confirm the identity of this large, bulky and streak-breasted species, while all other observers could confirm overall size (similar to female Eurasian Sparrowhawk) and upperpart details.
Ferry - Socheong Island, May 18
Although the sea-crossing was rather unpoductive, an excellent day's birding, with ca 105 species logged.
Among many interesting species, highlights included a Hume's Leaf, a (presumed) Ashy Drongo, a White-breasted Waterhen, Socheong's first Curlew Sandpiper, 70 Brown Shrike, and a probable Band-bellied Crake, flushed at close range in "paradise gulley".
Outstanding highlight came in the late afternoon, when Korea's first Yellow-streaked Warbler was seen and heard by Nial Moores and Soenke Tautz. Flushed from low vegetation, the bird was watched for a few seconds as it called (a bunting-like "Tzik"), before disappearing, to be heard again calling three or four times 2 minutes later by two more of the team. Although views were brief, the bird was rather Radde's Warbler-like, with an apparently weaker bill, a strong and well-defined supercilium, and yellow-washed and uneven, blotchy looking underparts. No photographs were taken, and while searched for, it could not be refound.
Yeongjeong (Incheon), May 17
With the boat to Socheong cancelled again due to heavy seas and rain, more birding at Yeongjeong. Highlights included both Swinhoe's and Pintail Snipe, a breeding-plumaged White-winged Tern, and the high-tide roost on the south of the island, which held ca 12,000 shorebirds, including 2 Nordmann's Greenshank and 15 leg-flagged Bar-tailed Godwit and Great Knot.
Yeong Jeong (Incheon), May 16
With the boats to Socheong cancelled due to heavy rain and strong westerly winds, a day at Yeong Jeong.
In the wider area, at least 95 Saunders's Gull present, with many pairs sitting, and several Common Redshank also displaying.
Although views were obviously insufficient to claim a national first, outstanding highlight was a close flight view by NM of a small, dark plover calling as flying away, identified confidently on call as a Semi-palmated Plover. This species, while photograhed in neighboring Japan, has not yet been recorded in Korea. Searching for more than an hour failed to relocate the bird, with all efforts then stopped due to very heavy rain showers mixed with yellow dust.
Songdo, May 17
Lagoon: 93 Great Cormorant on the roost, and the return of singing Oriental Reed Warblers was noted.
Southern mudflat: A very high tide kept most birds far out of range (thus uncountable) at Sorae. However, a survey of a relatively small section either side of the seawall produced 24 Black-faced Spoonbill, (an outstanding count for spring here), great views of 350 Grey Plover, 2 Pacific Golden Plover, 445 Whimbrel and 1 Eurasian Curlew, 100+ Great Knot, 11 Saunders's Gull, 26 Eastern Oystercatcher, 140 Bar-tailed Godwit, 1 Ruddy Turnstone, 1 Black-tailed Godwit, 1 Mongolian Plover, 131 Common Greenshank, 19 Kentish Plover, 4 Little Ringed Plover, 5 Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, 1 Long-toed Stint, 1 Little Tern and 1 Blue Rock Thrush, all calmly watched over by a lone Peregrine perched nearby.
Yubu Island, May 15
A medium- high tide count on Yubu produced ca 33,000 shorebirds, including probably 5 Spoon-billed Sandpiper and 3 Nordmann's Greenshank. Counts will be repeated several times here over the coming week.
Eocheong Island, May 15
A fairly eventful return crossing, with 11 Ancient Murrelet and at least 4 Crested Murrelet, confirmed by close examination of images taken by my companions Joo-Hyun Park & Hyun-Sook Yang. 19 Finless Porpoise and another Grey-faced Buzzard over the sea. The trip to Eocheong ended on a total of 90 species.
Eocheong Island, May 14
Strong winds giving way to calmer, misty conditions by late afternoon. Somewhat fewer birds on the island, although a search through the more sheltered forest & ridge revealed 1 Mugimaki and a Narcissus Flycatcher, another Two-barred Greenish Warbler, 2 or 3 presumed Hume's Warbler, 2 Siskin, 5 Grey-faced Buzzard, 7 Black-naped Orioles and 4 Chestnut-flanked White-eye fresh in. 3 Yellow-rumped Flycatcher still and an Asian House Martin in with the mix of swallows. At the quarry, another Blyth's Pipit, and (still present) the Black Drongo and 3 Chinese Pond Herons.
Hong Island, May 14
A male Red-headed Bunting was photographed on Hong Island, by Lee Woo-Man (kwbs.or.kr/pdbmain.jsp?). Although Black-headed Bunting has been regularly recorded in Korea since 2000, there are probably less than 4 or 5 records of Red-headed in total.
Songdo, May 14
This week's shorebird count at Songdo was conducted after a short but severe thunderstorm and rain that lingered a little longer, delaying visibility over a rapidly-uncovered (and mostly distant) tidal area. As with last week's count, the following numbers are a portion of the birds present:
About 2000 Dunlin. 200 Bar-tailed Godwits. 11 Black-tailed Godwits, 120 Great Knot. 25 Eurasian Curlew. 10 Whimbrel. 85 Terek Sandpipers. 90 Common Greenshank. 75 Mongolian Plovers. 28 Kentish Plovers. 5 Little Ringed Plovers. 50 Grey and 15 Golden Plovers. 35 Far-Eastern Oystercatchers. 48 Red-necked Stint. 10 Sharp-tailed Sandpipers. 5 Common Redshank. 2 Ruddy Turnstone. 12 Little Terns.
On the freshwater, a splendid summer-plumage Whiskered Tern, 13 Black-faced Spoonbill, 14 Common Sandpipers, 3 Sharp-tailed Sandpipers, 1 Marsh Sandpiper, and 1 Long-toed Stint.
Eocheong Island, May 13
Bright and clear weather caused a general clearing out of birds, nevertheless the day added a Black-capped Kingfisher, 2 Japanese White-eye, 1 Arctic Warbler, 3 Pale-legged Leaf Warblers, a Two-barred Greenish Warbler (with distinctive call), 1 Black-Crowned Night-heron, personal first Black-naped Oriole of the spring, the resident Bull-headed Shrike (which was yesterday seen dispatching an Ashy Minivet!), a Siberian Blue Robin, and 1 Japanese Grosbeak.
Fresh blow-ins include 7 cristatus and 4 lucionensis Brown Shrikes and 3 macronyx Yellow Wagtail. Also a gang of 8 Eyebrowed Thrush and 2 spectacular Siberian Thrush. Radde's Warblers are fairly plentiful, calling and singing from low scrub, 1 Dusky Warbler, another male Red-throated Flycatcher, and a Swinhoe's Snipe showing the characteristic very moth-like flight. Still present 1 Daurian Starling, a handful of Yellow-breasted Buntings, 3 Chinese Blackbird (1 without a tail), and at least 4 Forest Wagtail.
Eocheong Island, May 12
Misty, wet and overcast: the first rain for a month on Eochong. The morning was marked by the arrival of Lesser Striated Swallows. Highlights were a Red-throated Flycatcher, the Siberian Chiffchaff, a stunning male Siberian Thrush, and a distinctive female Black-headed Bunting.
In the thick mist, and with the arrival of several busily hunting Chinese and a Japanese Lesser Sparrowhawk, birds kept low and in cover. Other sightings included a Yellow-rumped Flycatcher, Rufous-tailed Robin, Red-billed Starling, Scaly/White's Thrush, 1 lucionensis Brown Shrike, a Swinhoe's and 3 Pintail Snipe - and abundant Yellow-browed Warblers.
Still present 2 or 3 Forest Wagtails, and the Black Drongo.
Eocheong Island, May 11
The morning begun with a splendid Siberian Chiffchaff found by the German birders: well seen although poorly photographed. Other highlights included the long-staying Black Drongo, 2 beautifully singing Radde's Warbler and a pair of displaying Peregrine Falcons.
Migrants have continued to flow into the island, with at least 17 Yellow-breasted Bunting counted in various locations, including one famished individual devouring a large moth.There are now 7 Ashy Minivet, 13 Chinese Grosbeak, an abundance of Yellow-browed Warblers (c. 80 seen), and even more Red-throated and Olive-backed Pipits.
At the quarry, 1 Blyth's Pipit. Several Indian and Oriental Cuckoos are also fresh in today. Otherwise 2 confusus Brown Shrikes, 3 Yellow Wagtails (simillima and taivana), 3 Chinese Pond Heron, a single Red-flanked Bluetail, Eyebrowed Thrush, Daurian Starling, Tristram's Bunting, and Pacific Swift, c.7 Brown-headed Thrush, and surprisingly a Great-crested Grebe in the harbour.
Eocheong Island, May 10
Fine and clear weather on the crossing with only 1 Streaked Shearwater and 2 Temminck's Cormorant, as well as a Black-billed Magpie on Seonyudo (there are none on Eocheong).
Clearly there has been a recent fall of migrants, with c. 200 exhausted Little Buntings all over the island, as well as c.100 Black-faced, 40 Chestnut, 4 Yellow-browed and 4 Yellow-breasted Buntings. Thrushes included 2 Chinese Blackbird, 4 Brown-headed & 1 Naummann's Thrush: also 20+ Grey-streaked and 10 Asian Brown Flycatcher. 1 male simillima Yellow Wagtail, 1 leucopsis and 3 ocularis White Wagtails, 1 Grey and 3 Forest Wagtails. Pipits comprised 15 Olive-backed, 5 Red-throated and 1 Richard's.
Good views were had of both Japanese and Korean Bush Warblers, also 15 Yellow-browed, 4 Eastern Crowned, and 1 Dusky Warbler.
Other various sightings were 5 Chinese Grosbeak, 1 White-breasted Waterhen, 4 Ashy Minivet, 1 Common Kingfisher, 4 Siberian Stonechat and 2 Chinese Sparrowhawk.
Songdo, May 7
This week's shorebird count was, due to increasing military restrictions, from a fixed and less-than-ideal vantage point. Accordingly, the following numbers are only from areas close enough (although still mostly distant) for certain identification, reflect only a part of the birds present, and should be compared with our previous counts with this in mind.
Dunlin continue in large numbers--at least 4000+ within sight. Bar-tailed Godwits (at least in the surveyable area) have decreased, with about 400 within sight. Only 1 Great Knot within the area. Terek Sandpipers (40) were up, as were Mongolian Plovers (70). Grey Plovers decreasing (only 5) with Golden Plovers the reverse (20). 35 Eurasian Curlew, 12 Far-Eastern Oystercatcher, 2 Whimbrel, 5 Kentish Plover, 7 Black-tailed Godwit, 3 Ruddy Turnstone, 80 Common Greenshank, 1 Common Redshank, 12 Red-necked Stint, and 6 Little Terns.
On the lagoon, 11 Black-faced Spoonbill still present and beautifully plumed.
Eocheong Island, May 6 (morning only)
Thunderstorms just after dawn. A roving flock of 40+ Bramblings. New birds: a cracking male Narcissus Flycatcher; also 1 Brown, 1 Yellow-rumped, and 1 Grey-spotted Flycatcher. 1 Arctic Warbler. 1 Bluethroat. Best of the morning: a male Common Rosefinch.
From the ferry: 1 Streaked Shearwater, and 4 distant Murrelet.
Eocheong Island, May 5
Shortly after daybreak, a great look at the Black-headed Bunting, associating with a small flock of Little Buntings by the inner harbour. A few minutes later, a White-breasted Waterhen in the stream.
3 Snipe seem to be around: 1 unidentified, 1 Pintail (on call) and 1 apparent Swinhoe's (colour, wing shape, and flight action).
1 Purple-backed/Daurian Starling, and 4 Red-billed Starlings still. 1 Siberian Rubythroat, 1 Siberian Blue Robin, 6 White's, 2 Grey, 3 Grey-backed, 4 Brown-headed, 3 Dusky, 2 Pale, and 1 Eye-browed Thrush. 1 Chinese Blackbird. The season's 1st Hobby, and 2 Chinese Sparrowhawks. 5 Chinese Grosbeak.
Greatly reduced (5 and 2) numbers of Yellow-browed and Pallas' Leaf Warblers. A few Dusky Warblers heard; also 1 Asian Stubtail heard. 2 Ashy Minivet. 2 Richard's and 1 Blyth's Pipit (on structure, colour, and median coverts). 1 Forest Wagtail. 2 Japanese Whiteyes. 10 Siskin.
Eocheong Island, May 4
Very heavy fog on the crossing--the boat almost turned back.
Afternoon highlights, May 04: 1 Hume's Leaf Warbler (on combination of colour, structure, and esp. call). 1 Black Drongo. 1 Wryneck. 1 (female) Common Rosefinch. 1 Yellow Bunting. 5 Yellow-beasted, 10 Yellow-browed, and 4 Chestnut Buntings. The Black Redstart (now at the quarry, and bathing in puddles). 4 Greater Short-toed Larks. 2 Brown Shrike. 4 Chinese Pond Heron.